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Are We Born Into What We’re Good At?

I was reading this post on Pixel Photography (@PixPh), and I think it’s something that everyone should read. I feel that it applies to much more than just photography. It applies to almost everything to a point, from arts to academics, or to a lesser degree, athletics. But for the sake of ease discussion, let’s talk about photography.

When I walk around with my D90 on photowalks, or shooting at events, I often get into conversations with people about photography. The conversation usually, 9 times out of 10, goes into how I must get some great shots because I have a nice camera and that they’ll never be able to get shots as good with a point-and-shoot. False. I have actually seen a lot of amazing shots taken with point-and-shoot cameras, some of which are better than anything I could shoot right now. Even with my fancy schmancy equipment.

The one thing that I’ve read on almost every photography site that I frequent that I can’t stress enough is that it’s not the camera, it’s what’s behind the camera. I even need to remind myself about this at times, especially when I’m around other photographers (regardless of skill level) who have nicer equipment than me. The nicer gear, in my opinion, merely makes it easier to get those better shots. It’s really the “eye” and ability of the photographer to frame the shot and set it up well (and partially to be in the right spot at the right time.) Now is this an ability that you’re born with? I don’t think so. It’s something that anyone and everyone can develop with practice and time (if you’ve read Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, you know what I mean.) People may have advantages with their equipment and background (eg: a painter will have a head start.), but with practice, combined with constructive feedback from others, anyone can develop that “eye” for photography. You can develop the ability to see what will make a good shot, and learn how to frame it for maximum effect.

Take me for example, I’m not naturally talented in visual arts. Just take a look at my early photos and my drawings. So really there can only be one way that I’m able to get the shots that I do, practice and experience. I’ve only been shooting for about three and a half months now, and I feel like I’m getting some good shots here and there. However, in those three and half months, I’ve taken a basic photography class, been out shooting an average of 2-3 days a week (I took pictures nearly every day during the Olympics and have been out shooting at least a little bit nearly every day this month), and taken thousands of photos (even if you count the series of shots taken of the same scene to try to get one that turns out well as a single photo). I have tried to never leave my camera at home so I never miss an opportunity to shoot. I’ve looked for events to shoot at and taken advantage of the weather to go for spontaneous photowalks. When I walk around I consciously look at things and think about how to make a good shot out of them. As a result, I’ve had a lot of practice and a lot of opportunity to get more experience. I try new things, new angles, new ways of looking at things to try to get better shots. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t, and I learn from it. Then I take what I’ve learned and practice it in order to add it to my repertoire and skill set. I actually learn more from the bad shot that I take than from the good ones. I’ll look at them and figure out what I could have done to get a better shot.

So what do you think? Do you think that what I’ve said is true and that people can develop the ability to become a good photographer (artist, musician, etc.)? Or do you think that people are born with innate talent and we’re pretty much destined to be good a something from the moment we’re born? And then there’s what this whole topic really boils down to: nature or nurture? Leave a comment on your thoughts and vote in the poll!

  1. sup henry
    April 17, 2010 at 11:03 am

    talent is a baseline.

    • April 17, 2010 at 11:05 am

      but where does talent come from? are we hardwired from birth with the ability to see things in a certain way?

  2. May 2, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    Henry, this is a great post. My sister has a D90 as well, and am jealous of the pictures that she captures. However, I have friends who have fancier cameras than her, and their photographs look like… well, crap. It really is dependent on the person behind the camera! It takes practice to get better at a skill.

    • May 2, 2010 at 7:33 pm

      Thanks! Practice definitely makes perfect (however you wish to gauge that). Yeah, I’ve seen some simply amazing shots taken with point and shoot cameras and I’m just like wow. Overcoming that barrier of thinking that you have to be innately talented to do something well has made everything more fun to do and to learn as well. =D

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